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Innovative Women’s Conference Takes Place Online on March 26: Free and Open to All

IWC

By Lea Hart

The seventh annual Innovative Women’s Conference will be held on Friday, March 26 via Zoom, and organizers say the virtual format may make this the most inclusive year yet in the conference’s history.

The Jenkins MBA Women’s Club at Poole College of Management presents the conference each year, working together with faculty, staff and undergraduate students as well to produce a truly collaborative event. With no cost and no need to travel to attend, organizers expect a larger and more diverse group of participants this year.

This year’s theme, Reimagine 2021: Exploring Our Connection to Change, recognizes the past year has been a year like no other, and that we all need to take a moment for ourselves, pause and think about how to move forward with intention.

“This year’s theme is really about how we can take everything that’s happened since last year’s conference, talk about it, learn from it, and then how can we use that in the years to come in how we go about our lives,” said Geena Davis, president of the Jenkins MBA Women’s Club.

Nikki Sharpton, vice president of the Jenkins MBA Women’s Club, added that the theme also takes into account the changes that have taken place due to the pandemic in the ways in which we connect with each other.

“Our experiences at school, work, internships, have all been turned on their head,” she said. “We want everyone to be able to reflect on how they’ve connected with others, how they connect with themselves, and how they want to grow going forward.”

A shortened program with a lot of impact

The event takes into account that everyone is suffering from “Zoom fatigue” by now, Davis and Sharpton said. Rather than a full day, this year’s conference begins with a welcome at 9 a.m. and ends with closing remarks at 1:30 p.m.

In that roughly five-hour span, the organizers created a meaningful program that will touch on topics from leadership to resilience. So many people have been taking care of others this past year, said Leigh Shamblin, director of Leadership and professor of practice in the department of Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The conference provides an opportunity for attendees to take some time for themselves.

“It will be an opportunity for participants to take away from the conference what’s useful for them,” she said. “We want to give them something new to help inform their perspectives so that they can take whatever that next powerful step is for them in their own lives.”

The planning leading up to this year’s Innovative Women’s Conference was directed by the Jenkins MBA Women’s Club, with faculty, staff, and other students joining in to play instrumental roles in its planning and success.

Bev Porter, director of Career Center for Jenkins Graduate Programs, used her business and industry connections to help the group secure impactful speakers and panelists. She’s been involved with the conference since its first year and provides advice and historical perspective as well. Shamblin, who is also a faculty advisor for the Jenkins MBA Women’s Club, is in her fourth year as part of the planning committee.

“It’s evolved over the years, but every year the Jenkins MBA Women’s Club is leading the way to help us understand what to do,” Shamblin said. “They’ve been the driver.”

This year’s agenda

This is the second year the conference will be virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, organizers pivoted with just ten days’ notice to the virtual format. Current plans bring it back to an in-person event next year, however, the virtual format has presented some unique opportunities, Shamblin said.

“It continues to serve both students and professionals,” she said. “Because we’ve gone virtual, we’ve been able to serve more people – last year we had as many as 186 people on at one time.”

Following opening remarks, the conference kicks off with a Resiliency Session, led by Amy Sargent from the Institute for Social and Emotional Intelligence. The online workshop aims to increase participants’ global understanding of resilience and how to develop it. Sargent will address a range of topics from positive psychology, to staying grounded in values, to social and emotional intelligence.

“This is one session that I think is going to be critically important, especially given everything we’ve gone through in the last 12 months,” Porter said. “She’s going to talk to us about resilience and our presence; how to manage the stressors, and how to respond rather than react to situations that could derail us in our careers.”

The conference features a leadership panel as well. Participants can hear from women across industries as they talk about successes and challenges in building their careers, as well as “how they got out of their comfort zones and left negative self-talk at the door,” according to the conference agenda.

For the second year in a row, the conference features HerStories, celebrating Poole College alumni as they share their stories in their own words, via video, on how change shaped them and their lessons learned from navigating times of change.

“The goal of the segments is to celebrate the alumni and uplift them in all aspects of life since graduation,” said Tayah Butler, director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Poole College, who was instrumental in bringing the HerStories experience to this year’s conference. “A secondary goal is also to shine a light on voices and experiences that may have been marginalized while they were at Poole. In this way our alumni re-write their narratives and relationship with Poole, giving them space and a place to feel seen and heard.”

The idea came from a student, Jessica Carter, who interned for Butler in 2018. Carter thought to share the stories of alumni life post-graduation, and coined the phrase, “Behind every successful woman is a pack that has her back!” to show solidarity with women alumni. The HerStories celebration has taken place every year for four years in March, Butler said. It merged with the Innovative Women’s Conference in 2020, both now taking place during Women’s History Month.

For the second year, Gina Loften, the Chief Technology Officer for Microsoft U.S., will give the keynote address at the conference. However, Davis and Sharpton said her talk this year will look different from last year’s talk. In addition to taking participants through her journey to leadership, Loften will discuss the impact the past year has had on her as a leader.

The conference is open to all, and while it is called a Women’s Conference, men have attended in the past as well, Sharpton said. Video is turned off for participants, so they can attend from the comfort of home, she noted.

Much thought went into how to capture the events of the past year and how to acknowledge it all, Davis said. She hopes participants will leave feeling refreshed, recharged and energized.

“There is the weight of everything that’s happened over the past year, and there are a lot of important conversations to have and to process,” Davis said. “Given this, we want people to walk away and say, ‘how can I take the insights I learned from this conference and reimagine my life moving forward.”

This post was originally published in Poole College of Management News.

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